Anglican Perspectives: Science and Faith, Class 4

Supplemental material

The following seven features of the universe and the quotations (italicized) are taken from Science and the Trinity by Sir John Polkinghorne.

The universe is deeply intelligible:

  • Science is privileged to explore a universe that is both rationally transparent and rationally beautiful in its deep and accessible order. … It seems to me that purely naturalistic thinking is unable to cast light on this deep intelligibility, for ultimately it has to treat it as a fortunate but fortuitous fact.
  • In more specifically Trinitarian terms, our scientific ability to explore the rational beauty of the universe is seen to be part of the Father’s gift of the imago Deo to humankind, and the beautiful rational order … is the imprint of the divine Logos ‘without whom was not anything made that was made

The universe has a fruitful history:

  • Speaking of the “Big Bang”: It is a striking fact that that initial ball of energy has become the home of saints and mathematicians. … There is a real sense in which the universe was pregnant with the possibility of carbon-based life almost from the moment of the Big Bang onwards.  Its physical fabric was then of the exact form necessary to allow for the eventual emergence of life.

It is a relational universe:

  • Space, time, matter and energy are intimately related. It is striking that so methodologically reductionist a subject as physics has pointed us in a relational or holistic direction. … the general character of physical reality seems to correspond to a web-like character of interconnected integrity.
  • With physics moving in a more holistic direction, we might expect by analogy to need to challenge the individualistic atomism that is so characteristic of contemporary thinking about human nature. … the Christian understanding of the community of the faithful as the Body of Christ, constituting a web of relationality [is] vastly more comprehensive than the one-to-one exchange of I and Thou.
  • These remarkable developments in relational and holistic thinking that are taking place in the fold of science are deeply congenial to Trinitarian way of thought.  … They are profoundly consonant with a theology of nature that sees the relation of perichoretic exchange between the divine Persons as lying at the heart of the Source of all created reality.  One could paraphrase the title of John Zizioulas’s insightful book on Trinitarian theology, Being as Communion, by the phrase, ‘Reality is relational.’

It is a universe of veiled reality

  • We can only know the quantum world in terms respectful of its veiling.
  • It is the Christian testimony that God is most fully to be known in meeting with the One God whose triune reality is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. … That novel pattern of thought is forced upon us by the reality encountered and it does not arise from fanciful or unconstrained speculation.

It is a universe of open process:

  • The 20th century say the death of a merely mechanical view of the world.  Its demise came about through the discovery of widespread intrinsic unpredictiblities present in physical processes, first at the subatomic level of quantum theory, and then at the everyday level of those exquisitely sensitive systems that have been given the ill-chosen name of ‘chaotic’.”  Both God and creatures are free to act within the open grained structure of the universe, in ways constrained by its intrinsic order.  

It is an information generating universe:

  • I expect that the science of the twenty first century will be characterized by its making dynamic pattern, and the information that specifies that pattern, a fundamental category in scientific vocabulary, alongside the traditional concepts of matter and energy.

It is a universe of eventual futility

  • The cosmos is condemned to eventual futility.  It is as certain as it can be that carbon-based life will everywhere prove to have been a transient episode in its history.
  • If there is hope, either for the universe or for us, it can only lie in the eternal faithfulness of God—a point Jesus made clearly in his discussions with the Sadducees (Mark 12:18-27)

What is at stake is the fundamental issue of whether the universe is a cosmos or a chaos. … If we are to be able with intellectual integrity to hold to a more hopeful view, I think this requires the kind of developed theistic system of belief that Trinitarian theology provides.  This is the kind of overarching understanding that is necessary if we are able to recognize that our world is indeed a cosmos after all, and that is why I believe that we should look at our universe from a Trinitarian perspective.

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